I’ve been thinking about immortality a lot lately. Not in a metaphorical sense, such as fame being some sort of lasting life, but literal immortality, the kind where you live for hundreds or even thousands of years. The subject came to mind because I read several articles over the last year claiming we are but a few decades away from achieving what they call “clinical immortality.”
How? I don’t know. It has to do with the discovery that the cells in your body operate with a kind of timer that counts down to a certain point and then your stuff stops working so well. The guys in white coats (scientists, not the ones after me) think we’re on the threshold of being able to not just stop, but also to reverse, that process.
Now, my question is pretty simple: Who would want to live forever? The value of life, the thing that makes it so precious, is that it’s limited. How valuable will your experiences be when you have an infinite amount of time to replicate or better them? How long will love last if you don’t go into old age together? If you stay young and pretty forever, will you ever be able to fully commit to one person and know that kind of bone deep love?
The answer to my question is pretty obvious: EVERYONE. Getting old is not fun. Watching yourself slow down as other run past, is frankly humiliating. Even if we were still limited to one hundred years, everyone would choose to live that hundred years as a 29 year old version of themselves until the last minute. I think it’s a mistake and I truly believe it will sap the meaning from life but I can see myself doing it.
That brings me to the more obvious questions: Who gets it? What about overpopulation? What will we do with all that time?
Who gets it? That’s easy: the rich, the politicians, and celebrities. That’s the way it will probably play out because that’s the way it has always played out.
What about overpopulation? We’ve already got twice as many people on the planet as can be fed in a self-sustaining way. The water is running out. The oceans are over fished. The trash is piling up. If you start letting people live forever, it’s just going to get worse. But there is a way that you could use immortality as way to combat overpopulation: Require a person to trade their ability to reproduce for the right to live forever. You could have one kid max and then it’s snip-snip or you grow old and die with the rest of us.
That brings me to the question that I find truly interesting: What will we do with all that time? I’ve spent far more hours thinking about this than I should considering that on the current timetable I won’t live to see this alleged clinical immortality. At first, I thought, “Well, we’ll just keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. Love, argue, eat, play games, fight wars.” But then it hit me that eventually everything gets boring especially if you know you can do it forever.
So, at first, I thought about things like death sports because what is the only thing of value to an immortal? They can always make more money or build a new house or buy a new car or meet a new love but only if they’re still alive to do it. Would people get to a point where they would wager their own immortality just to keep life interesting?
We might go through a phase like that, but more likely would a fifty year ritual where you just walk away from your current life and start over. New career, new spouse, start with a minimal amount of money in a new place and work your way back up.
Then it hit me: What if we could create virtual worlds that were so lifelike that the players inside them didn’t know they were virtual. You could play this game thinking you were mortal and go through your whole “life” passing through the stages your real body would never have to endure right up to the moment of death. Then you jack out of the terminal, blink your eyes, and realize that it was all a game. Anytime your immortal life starts to lose its value, you can just plug into a virtual life.
And then I thought: what if that’s what I’m doing right now? What if that long tunnel and bright white light is just the jacking out process?
What would you do with all the time in the world?